House and Senate Republicans to Unveil Separate Budget Resolutions

House and Senate Republicans plan to release separate budget plans later this week. The Senate Budget Committee is already scheduled to mark up its fiscal year 2016 budget resolution on March 18 and 19. Votes on amendments to the resolution are set for the week of March 23. According to Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a Democratic alternative will not be offered to the Senate budget resolution. Lawmakers will instead focus on promoting their priorities through amendments to the Republican budget. The congressional budget process provides for the annual adoption of a concurrent resolution on the budget to serve as a framework for the consideration of budgetary legislation, including the annual appropriations process. The congressional budget timetable sets April 15 as a target date for completion of the annual budget resolution, although Congress usually does not meet the deadline. It is expected that lawmakers in both the House and the Senate will move to mark up and adopt the resolutions by the end of the month, before Congress recesses for two weeks from March 30 to April 10. The CBO has also released its estimate of the President’s FY 2016 budget based on its own economic projections and estimating models rather than on the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). CBO estimates that if enacted, the President’s budget would have no significant net effect on the deficit in 2015 but would reduce deficits relative to those in CBO’s baseline in each year between 2016 and 2025. For 2015, the deficit would total $486 billion. The deficit would fall to $380 billion in 2016 and then increase in each subsequent year over a 10-year period, growing to $801 billion in 2025, according to CBO projections.

Prescription Drug Spending on the Rise

According to a report released by Express Scripts last week, spending on prescription medicines rose 13.1 percent last year. This is the largest increase in prescription drug spending since 2003. Express Scripts found that the increase was driven by a few specialty areas, particularly new drugs to treat hepatitis C. While new hepatitis C drugs have proven effective, with cure rates of more than 90 percent, they are also very expensive. The hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, for example, costs $84,000 for a 12-week treatment. Spending on hepatitis C drugs increased by 743 percent. Express Scripts determined that if expensive specialty medications were excluded from their analysis, the drug spending increase would be approximately six percent, which is still higher than spending increases in recent years. In a blog post response to the report, PhRMA criticized Express Scripts for failing to calculate rebates in their analysis and only taking a small subset of medications into consideration. PhRMA notes that the year 2014 was unique given the high number of people who gained health insurance coverage, and the record number of new medicines which were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Quality Data, Quality Healthcare Act Introduced in the Senate

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) have introduced the Quality Data, Quality Healthcare Act, which would provide for greater access to Medicare claims data by modernizing and reforming the Qualified Entity (QE) program. S. 679 would allow organizations receiving Medicare data to analyze and redistribute it to authorized subscribers, such as insurers, health systems, and physicians, so that subscribers can make more informed decisions. The bill would also permit those entities to charge a fee to their subscriber so that the organizations can conduct robust analyses to improve health care quality and reduce costs. The Quality Data, Quality Healthcare Act was previously included in the bipartisan, bicameral SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014.

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